It’s not every day a teenager is forced to cross the Mexican border with only the clothes on his back and a visa in his pocket to pursue a dream of becoming a professional soccer player.
However, for Jonathan Colunga his goal of becoming a professional soccer player meant he needed to come to the United States at 17 years old.
Colunga, a midfielder on the San Jose State University men’s soccer team, was born on Oct. 24, 1992 in Leon, Mexico and he came to the U.S. without his family. He is the oldest in his family and has two younger brothers.
“I grew up in Mexico and when I was 17, I left everything and moved to the U.S. to live the so-called American dream,” Colunga said. “ This made me mature a lot and it has certainly affected me because I learned to grow up and be self-reliable.”
Colunga crossed the border to the U.S. on his own in 2010 and from there his life changed.
“I only had a visa for three months and I was thinking, if I want to go this is my only chance,” Colunga said. “I sat down with my mom and I told her that I felt like going and she told me if you want to go then just go, so I left my parents, friends, girlfriend at that time—everything.”
Colunga quickly left everything and didn’t get a chance to say goodbye to everyone.
“It was so quick I got on a plane to Tijuana and my uncle picked me up and I just crossed the border with my visa,” Colunga said.
Colunga said he keeps contact with his family once a week every weekend by phone or over Facebook.
Soccer has always been a part of Colunga’s life. He began playing when he was five years old for a local team in his town in Mexico.
“Soccer is like a religion, everyone does it,” Colunga said. “ My uncle and my dad introduced me to it. My dad was very good so people expected me to be good as well.”
When Colunga came to the U.S. he lived with his high school coach while he played for Lindsay High School in the small central valley city of Lindsay.
There, Colunga won a regional championship with Lindsay for the two years he was there.
After Colunga graduated from high school, his next step toward his soccer career did not lead directly to San Jose State but instead it led him on a different path.
After high school, Colunga participated in a college showcase camp, which displayed the talents of the area. College recruits from various universities were there watching and recruiting players.
Although Colunga was offered to play for various universities, he wanted to go his own route and chose to apply to Fresno Pacific University and UCLA.
But after both universities turned him down, Colunga took the initiative and did not let the setback effect him from living out his dream.
He began his studies at CS Bakersfield and became a walk-on freshman for the men’s soccer team.
Colunga said it was very important to make the team because all he wanted to do was play college soccer.
“It was a big deal to be a part of the roster,” Colunga said. “ It was hard at the beginning because the coaches didn’t give me a lot of minutes which frustrated me and made me almost quit.”
Colunga said times were tough at the beginning of his career but pushed forward until he finally got his chance to demonstrate all of the hard work from countless hours of training when he stepped onto the field for the first time as a college athlete.
“I was very nervous, my legs were shaking a little bit,” Colunga said. “ I wanted to have the ball but I didn’t want to mess up.”
After one season with CS Bakersfield, Colunga decided to come to San Jose State after former CS Bakersfield head coach Simon Tobin decided to accept the head coaching position at SJSU.
“I recruited him to Cal State Bakersfield and he was there with me for his freshman year,” Tobin said. “He found it hard at the beginning as all freshmen do at Division I, but I could see that he had a talent to become one of the better players in Division I I’d coached.”
Colunga was the only player Tobin brought from the original roster he had at Bakersfield. Colunga was offered a full-ride scholarship to play for the Spartans, and he is finishing his third year with Tobin as his coach.
“Over the three years he’s grown obviously to become a mature player rather than a kid that was struggling to get on the bus on the travel team at the beginning,” Tobin said. “I was blessed with a very good team at that time but it was good for him as a freshman, he played amongst some of the better players in the country.”
Colunga hopes to become a professional soccer player and wants to bring his family to the U.S. with the help of his career.
“I think the realization after his first year was that he has the possibility of playing soccer at the next level, which every kid wants to but in reality not many can,” Tobin said. “So he has definitely gone to that level now to where he will play after but the one question we have is at what level will he compete at.”
Colunga said his goal is to graduate from SJSU with a degree in Spanish and either pursue a career in professional soccer or in teaching.
“There are some scouts right now looking at me to play here in the U.S. professionally,” Colunga said. “ I currently have San Jose Earthquakes looking at me and also Portland Timbers and Kansas City.”
Through his first season with the Spartans in 2014, Colunga was named All-Conference second team for the Western Athletic Conference.
Tobin said the first thing you see in Colunga as a player is his technical ability with the ball as well as his capacity to use his vision to know what to do with the ball.
“He is a great model for kids in the same situation he is in,” Tobin said. “He does well and he takes care of business in the classroom. Like I said, he is a smart guy and if I’m bringing out a first generation kid as a recruit he is a great kid to say ‘This is what I’ve achieved at college and hopefully you can do the same.’”
Life wasn’t easy when Colunga began his journey to the U.S. five years ago, but he is now on track for his own American dream and the only person who can stop him now is himself.